Statement by H. E.
Ambassador Antonio de Aguiar
Minister of External Relations of the Federative Republic of Brazil
Informal discussion at the United Nations on the "Responsability
I warmly welcome you to this session where, I believe, we are all – countries, organizations and individuals – genuinely committed both to multilateralism and the protection of civilians. I am pleased to invite you to an informal discussion on the "Responsibility while Protecting".
As you know, this is an idea first mentioned by President Dilma Rousseff in her opening address to the General Assembly last September. Later, in November, Brazil circulated a concept paper that elaborates on the notion that the international community, as it exercises its responsibility to protect, must demonstrate a high level of responsibility while protecting. Over the last few months we have noticed significant support for this debate. I believe we have an opportunity today to have a frank and fruitful exchange of ideas on the various dimensions of this issue.
The political changes of our time pose a challenge to the international community. The relationship between the maintenance of international peace and security and the protection of civilians has evolved significantly after the United Nations was established in 1945. New conceptual frameworks were developed to deal with the challenges confronting us.
The work on the protection of civilians has significantly advanced since the 1990s, when discussions on this issue began to receive more focused attention. The plight of innocent civilians and the need to prevent impunity of perpetrators of the most serious crimes led the international community to create the International Criminal Court.
On its sixtieth anniversary, the United Nations adopted the concept of “responsibility to protect”. It established the responsibility of States to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. It also decided that the international community should encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility. Additionally, it established the responsibility of the international community to act collectively, through the UN, should national authorities fail to protect their populations.
The recognition that there is a responsibility to protect was a milestone. It should be stressed that the same 2005 World Summit Outcome that established a consensus formulation of the concept of "responsibility to protect" also clearly stated that this responsibility must be exercised, first of all, through the use of diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, and that only in those cases in which peaceful means prove to be inadequate should coercive measures be contemplated.
Along this process, it is essential to distinguish between collective responsibility – which can be fully exercised thorough non-coercive measures – and collective security – which involves a case-by-case political assessment by the Security Council.
Before embarking upon military action, the international community is expected to conduct a comprehensive and judicious analysis of all possible consequences. The use of force always brings with it the risk of causing unintended casualties and disseminating violence and instability. The fact that it is exercised with the aim of protecting civilians does not make the collateral casualties or unintended destabilization less tragic.
This is why, in our view, it is necessary to take an additional conceptual step in dealing with the responsibility to protect, and I would like to take this opportunity to offer a new perspective on this question, a perspective which we believe has become essential in approaching our common objective.
President Dilma Rousseff, in her address to the General Assembly last September, referred to a disturbing fact: the world today suffers the painful consequences of military interventions that have aggravated existing conflicts, allowed terrorism to penetrate into places where it previously did not exist, given rise to new cycles of violence and increased the vulnerability of civilian populations.
And it was then that she added: “much has been said about the responsibility to protect, but very little about the responsibility while protecting.”
Because the United Nations can authorize the use of force, it is under the obligation to fully develop an awareness of dangers involved in such use and to set up mechanisms that can provide an objective and detailed assessment of these dangers, as well as ways and means to prevent harm to civilians.
Our collective point of departure should resemble the principle of "primum non nocere" that doctors are so well acquainted with. In the first place, do not cause harm – this must be the motto for those who are mandated to protect civilians. It would also be most unfortunate, ultimately unacceptable, if a mission established by UN mandate with the aim of protecting civilians were to cause greater harm than the one it was enacted to prevent.
We must aim for a higher level of responsibility. One civilian casualty is one too many.
I believe the concepts of “responsibility to protect” and “responsibility while protecting” should evolve together, based on an agreed set of fundamental principles, parameters and procedures, of which I mention a few:
- prevention is always the best policy. It is the emphasis on preventive diplomacy that reduces the risk of armed conflict and the human costs associated with it. In that regard, we commend the initiative of the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to establish 2012 as the year of prevention, which has Brazil's full support. Other initiatives such as “Friends of Mediation” can be seen to fall into the same spirit of promoting the exercise of collective responsibility in the pursuit of peace through diplomacy, dialogue, negotiation, prevention;
- the international community must be rigorous in its efforts to exhaust all peaceful means available in the protection of civilians under threat of violence, in line with the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations and as embodied in the 2005 Outcome Document;
- the use of force must produce as little violence and instability as possible. Under no circumstances can it generate more harm than it was authorized to prevent;
- in the event the use of force is contemplated, action must be judicious, proportionate and limited to the objectives established by the Security Council;
- enhanced Council procedures are needed to monitor and assess the manner in which resolutions are interpreted and implemented to ensure responsibility while protecting.
The establishment of these procedures should not be perceived as a means to prevent or unduly delay authorization of military action in situations established in the 2005 Outcome Document. Brazil’s initiative should rather be seen as an invitation to a collective debate on how to ensure, when force is contemplated as a justifiable alternative and is duly authorized by the Security Council, that its use be responsible and legitimate. This is why it is so important to ensure the accountability of those to whom authority is granted to resort to force.
Brazil has initiated a series of discussions with countries from all regions as well as with non-governmental organizations and specialists on the subject. We want to contribute to a crucial debate for the international community on the maintenance of international peace and security and the protection of civilians. In recent events on the "responsibility to protect", we have had the opportunity to broaden this dialogue. Brazil appreciates the fact that the UN Secretary-General has welcomed the initiative on the "responsibility while protecting".
Today's event is an opportunity to deepen and broaden this discussion.
Let me briefly outline how we have planned today's informal debate. We are honored to have Professor Edward Luck as the co-chair of this event. The Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on the "responsibility to protect" is a key interlocutor. We very much appreciate his contribution, in consultation with Member States, to the conceptual, political and operational development of R2P. His thoughts today will be most welcome.
The floor will then be open to participants. We have invited all Member States as well as NGOs and specialists who have worked on this subject. We have received requests for the floor from (...). I would ask other participants to signal their wish to speak so that we can close the list of speakers. I would like to encourage speakers to be as concise as possible and limit their statements to three minutes, so that we can benefit from the widest possible participation.
We will conclude today's discussion with remarks by the co-chairs.
I now give the floor to Professor Edward Luck.